In the twenty-plus years since “Blizzard Beasts”, the not-so-glorious closing chapter of their unsurpassed and rightly revered Holocaust Metal era, a lot has happened in the Immortal camp. They released three albums of more readily accessible epic sounding black/thrash metal with “At the Heart Of Winter” (1999), “Damned In Black” (2000) and “Sons Of Northern Darkness” (2002) that broke them to a massive audience. After a seven year hiatus Immortal returned with the prophetically titled and fantastically overhyped “All Shall Fall” – after which they collapsed amidst personal – and creative differences. In 2014 frontman Abbath left the project in acrimony with the usual aggrieved accusations and lawsuits following suit. Now, a decade after “All Shall Fall”, Immortal (sans Abbath) returns with the “Northern Chaos Gods” 7” vinyl single, a precursor to the album of the same name.
Even without their most recognizable member (whose solo venture wasn’t a grand creative renaissance either) a fire has been lit under sole original member Demonaz and long-time drummer Reidar Horghagen. “Northern Chaos Gods” is lean, mean and the most hungry and combative the duo have sounded in years. As an isolated track it’s nigh on impossible, not to mention misleading at the very least, to gauge how much “Northern Chaos Gods” represents the album it is preceding. In isolation it is indeed an impressive slice of icy Northern wintercold that Immortal used to master. The lyrics, steeped in the usual Blashyrkh fantasy imagery, are a thinly-veiled jab at their former frontman and clearly both Demonaz and Horgh have a bone to pick with him. The duo has since gone on record stating that “Northern Chaos Gods”, both single and album, is “the first step in the reclaiming of our past grimness and attitude.” The veracity of that statement will become clear once the record has been released. As of now, we’re very reservedly optimistic about Immortal reclaiming at least a fraction of their old sound and character, hence our coverage of their discography halting after the meager “Blizzard Beasts”.
While Immortal’s chaotic beginnings with “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” were a stylistic continuation of the duo’s work with Old Funeral, it was on “Pure Holocaust” and, more importantly, the utterly barbaric “Battles In the North” that Immortal truly came into its own. The “Northern Chaos Gods” single is apparently painfully aware of that fact and is hellbent on rekindling the spirit of those albums. In other words, “Northern Chaos Gods” is the most bestial and violent Immortal has sounded in many, many years. Demonaz’ serpentine shrieks and rasps recall some of the band’s earliest work and the riffing as well as the solo is the closest we’re likely to come to a recreation or reimaging of their landmark third offering “Battles In the North”. After twenty plus years a band is bound to repeat itself and the lyrics for the single reference ‘under the banner of Blashyrkh we ride’ from the title track of “Battles In the North” as well as the ‘kings of the ravenrealm’ from “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)” from the same session as well as name-checking “Sons Of Northern Darkness”. In the best scenario, this single could potentially be a positive omen.
However that doesn’t mean that there isn’t laziness abound. Songtitles as ‘The Gates Of Blashyrkh’, ‘Grim and Dark’ and ‘Mighty Ravendark’ don’t inspire a lot of confidence, but crazier things have happened. The artwork for the single is an outtake of a larger canvas used for the full length release. Artwork that we haste to mention is nothing short of a monochrome xeroxing from the Pär Olofsson digital rendering used on “All Shall Fall” released some ten years prior. It’s virtually unfathomable that Demonaz and Horghagen weren’t able to allocate proper artwork for an album that was several years in the making. It’s an affront to good taste and sensibility that Nuclear Blast Records saw nothing wrong with such an obvious and advanced level of recycling of past assets. As per the expected Nuclear Blast standard the duo convened at Abyss Studio in Ludvika, Sweden with Peter Tägtgren not only producing, but also providing session bass guitar. Tägtgren, of course, is no stranger to black metal as he headed up the very shortlived but scorchingly excellent The Abyss studio project in the 1990s. Rather interestingly is that the original Immortal logo hasn’t been reinstated as you’d expect of an effort so desperately eager to recreate the magic of the past. Oh well… Next time maybe?